I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Crockin' on!

I've been on a slow cooker roll here lately!  It seems that after I griped about the lack of things to prepare in my pot, recipes started jumping out at me left and right and from behind bushes.  And I recently came into possession of my 92-year-old grandmother's Crock-Pot and I'm totally digging the whole retro vibe of it.  I also scored her 1960's (I think) era combination slow cooker/fryer  called   Hy-Fry which looks just like this one.  It's never been used and she still had the original instruction booklet where she had penciled the date of December 25, 1974 which means she got it as a Christmas gift when I was 3 years old.  Call me sappy, but I'm hugely sentimental about things like that. 

I found a marinara recipe on Budget Bytes, which is a neat site that features really great recipes that are budget friendly.  Beth estimates this recipe costs a little over $5 to prepare - of course that's going to depend on prices in your geographic area and other variables like coupons, sale prices, etc. but even if it's a few cents more, it's still a pretty sweet deal.

I love having my freezer stocked with things that I can pull out last minute, thaw and have a good home cooked meal on the table without much effort at all and this fits the bill perfectly.  After the sauce cools, portion it up into 1/2 cup or 1 cup servings and freeze.  In addition to serving over pasta, this makes a great marinara for pizza (try this one topped with bacon, cheese and pepperoni or throw your favorite veggies on this homemade pizza dough.)

Slow Cooker Marinara
approximately 13 servings (1/2 cup)

Printable Recipe

2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
1 onion, diced
1/2 Tablespoon garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon dried basil
1/2 Tablespoon dried oregano
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients to your slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 8 hours.  When done, stir the sauce and remove the bay leaves.  Season with more salt and pepper if needed. 

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Date Night

Here it is almost the end of June and I'm just now getting around to telling you about my lovely Valentine's Day date with the Boy Toy.  That's typical me - always a few days late and way more than a few dollars short.

Even though I'd had a over-the-top, larger-than-life HUGE crush on the Boy Toy for quite some time (I even tried to woo him last year with these to-die-for brownies), this past February marked our first official Valentine's date. We agreed that there would be no gift exchange - we only wanted to spend time with each other which is the whole point of a day of love, in my opinion.  I always feel terrible for the guys who are guilted by their gals into making an expensive token-of-love purchase just for the purposes of showboating.  Love should be shown (and recognized) every single day, not just for one day of the year because marketing gurus make such a big deal out of it. 

But of course I can never adhere to the "no gifts" rule and splurged a whole $5 on making this gift for the Boy Toy.  It is a deck of 52 playing cards with different things I love about him printed and pasted onto each card.  The idea and templates came from Peppermint Creative and it was a really fun project to do.  I wasn't quite sure how he'd react to getting a gift that looked like a 3rd grader had made (it's been a really long time since I've cut and pasted, okay?), but I think he was genuinely impressed with it.  He totally understood the thought and sentiment behind it and again, that's what Valentine's Day is all about. 

It was hard to narrow it down to only 52 things that I love about the Boy Toy! 

He had informed me earlier in the week that he had made reservations for us to have a nice dinner and I didn't even ask where because I wanted it to be a total surprise.  I was so excited when we pulled into Sante' in downtown Matthews, NC - I had never been there before and it was quaint, romantic and cozy and the perfect place for Valentine's Day.  It's funny how a female brain works though.  As we were being seated by the hostess, I was gazing around at the decor and a semi-subconscious thought popped into my head:  How did he know this place was perfect for a Valentine's Day date?  Had he been here before? Perhaps with other Valentine's Day dates?  And just then, as if he were reading my mind, he said to me, "Oh, by the way....I was only here once before, a long time ago, for a work function."  Ha!  I had to laugh and confess my thoughts.

So anyway, I'll leave the juicy details of our evening to your imagination and only say that we started our meal with a charcuterie board and Boy Toy let me pick my favorites.  He also let me choose the wine and I settled on Foghead Sauvignon Blanc.  My dinner choice was a linguine pasta dish with shrimp, asparagus, roasted red peppers and prosciutto.  It was delicious and the perfect portion size left just enough room for our creme brulee dessert (and I was nice and let Boy Toy choose that.) 

I've been dreaming of that pasta dish ever since February so I whipped up a tasty replication in the kitchen not long ago.  It was a day of love all over again!

Sante' Shrimp & Linguine
Serves 4

Printable Recipe

24-30 medium-large shrimp, deveined and peeled (41-60 count)
2 tablespoons EVOO
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup white wine
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoon McCormick Montreal Seasoning
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/4 cup Kalamata olives
1/2 cup quartered artichoke hearts (packed in water), drained
1/2 box linguine
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Turn the broiler on "High."  Cut grape tomatoes in half, drizzle with olive oil, course salt (sea salt) and freshly ground pepper.  Roast for about 20 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook linguine according to package directions. Drain.

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and bell pepper and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add shrimp to the pan along with red pepper flakes and Montreal seasoning.  Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add lemon juice and wine to pan along with peas, olives and artichoke hearts.  Cook until shrimp are opaque and pink (about 1-2 minutes more). 

Remove from heat.  Add lemon zest and roasted tomatoes.  Toss the shrimp mixture with drained linguine.  Serve garnished with Parmesan cheese. 

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